The former MI6 agent who authored the dossier detailing alleged links between the Trump campaign and Russian officials was handed a victory Monday in federal court after the defamation case brought against him by three Russian oligarchs was dismissed.
According to The Guardian, Mikhail Fridman, Petr Aven and German Khan claimed that Christopher Steele and his intelligence firm, Orbis, defamed them in the dossier that was made public in 2017.
The Russians own stakes in Moscow-based Alfa Bank. All are billionaires.
On Monday, a judge in the District of Columbia, Anthony C Epstein, upheld a motion by Steele to have the oligarchs’ case thrown out. Epstein did not determine whether the dossier – which Donald Trump has repeatedly dismissed as “fake” – was “accurate or not accurate”.
But the judge concluded that it was covered by the US first amendment, which protects free speech. He ruled that the oligarchs had failed to prove a key part of their case: that Steele knew that some information in the dossier was inaccurate, and had acted “with reckless disregard as to its falsity”.
In one of the dossier’s 17 memos, Steele claimed the three Russians were in close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin and provided him “informal advice”.
The memo also claimed that in the 1990s an Alfa intermediary delivered “illicit cash” to Putin when he was deputy mayor of Saint Petersburg. It further suggested that Putin was able to “exploit” as a lever the oligarchs’ “lack of investment in Russia”, even though he personally was not “bothered” by it.
Alfa denies these claims. It said it “strongly disagreed” with the court’s decision on a number of points and would “almost certainly appeal”.
Though Steele won a victory with this particular case, his legal problems are not yet finished:
He still faces a libel claim in London brought by a Russian technology businessman, Aleksej Gubarev, who appears in the dossier. Gubarev owns Webzilla, a Florida-based web company. The Russian is also suing Buzzfeed in Miami. Steele recently gave video evidence in connection with the Buzzfeed case.